Friday, October 17, 2014

The Case Of Suzanne Pilley

There is a misconception that there can be no murder charge without a body. It used to be seven years before a presumption of death certificate could be granted. But now, death can be presumed if there are suspicious circumstances followed by a lack of  'electronic footprints in the snow.

Suzanne Pilley was a 38-year-old bookkeeper from Edinburgh. On the 4 May 2010 she is clearly seen on her usual morning commute.
                                                                BBC One

Her former lover and co-worker David Gilroy, was arrested and charged with her murder. He was later found by a majority verdict and received a sentence of life imprisonment. He is appealing.
Her remains have never been found.
All the evidence against Gilroy was circumstantial and complicated. The police (Lothian and Borders) and the fiscal office decided to devise a computerised narrative to explain to the jury the events of that day, and that fact that  nobody could have done it, apart from Mr Gilroy.
So on the 4th   May Suzanne is seen on the bus, she gets off and goes into Sainsburys to buy her sandwich and her bottle of water. The security film of her on the self- service  till is extremely clear. She leaves at 8.51. Three minutes later she is seen turning onto the street where she lives ( on CCTV). There is no coverage of her leaving any of the other exits off the street so she must have gone into her workplace but never turned up at her desk. She was a creature of habit and diligent- her co workers were worried.   It was unlikely she had ‘gone away’ as she had not catered for her cat or fish to be looked after.
This is where the computer graphics came into play for the jury. The prosecution built an image of the four story building. The three office floors are open plan with thirty offices on each floor. The ground floor was car parking.  The theory was that Suzanne had never made it into the office, something had happened to her in the carpark below.
Gilroy arrived at work by bus. He was late getting to his desk (about 9.25) and brought forward a meeting in Argyll from two days hence to the next day.  He went home by bus. His colleagues noticed he had make up covering scars on his face and hands. Nobody knew about his affair or the fact Suzanne had just ended it. At the time of the murder,  he was back with his wife and kids and he was very helpful in the investigation.
On 11 May 2010, Lothian and Borders Police initiated a huge public appeal for information. The SIO brought in large digital screens that sat in the centre of Edinburgh, playing footage of Suzanne’s last known movements. It cost a fortune. The SIO said that his boss nearly had a hairy canary when he mentioned the cost per day ( you could buy a car for that amount of cash, daily) but  he waited a while before he mentioned Suzanne’s work were footing the bill. One week later the employers issued a statement that it was out of character for her to disappear and the police immediately said they were now treating it as a murder enquiry.
                                      The search area. Huge and inaccessible

Meanwhile they had traced a silver car that has been seen driving round the wilds of Argyll on remote and very bumpy roads. Gilroy had a silver car. Examination of his car showed that all four springs were broken ( the first time the forensic expert had seen that on a thirty year career) so it had been doing some serious off roading.)
The problem was – what had happened to Suzanne.  The SIO brought in two cadaver dogs from   Yorkshire ( the Lothian and border dog was on his  holidays).  The two dogs, Springers,  who I shall called Bibbity and Bobbity worked together to give corroboration of their evidence. Bibbity waggled his head in the presence of  ‘decomposition  scents’,  Bobbity waggled his bottom.
Separately, they ran through the entire building, round every office, Bibbity went first and only showed two positives, one on a concealed stairwell in the carpark, the other beside a door – a door that had to be opened with two hands, so  anybody wanting to exit has to put down anything they are carrying. Babbity showed the same result, his bottom waggling. These dogs can pick up scents  secreted twenty minutes after death. Pretty impressive. So the theory was that Gilroy and Suzanne  had met for some kind of rendezvous in the stairwell.  Gilroy lashed out,  killed her, left her body there  hidden (scent source one) then went  about his business for the day.
The next day, the day of the Argyll trip,  he brought his car in,  reversed it up to the garage door and placed her in the boot. The dogs later tested positive  when they got access to the car boot.
He was seen buying air fresheners ( his boot stank of it) there was no DNA in the boot, just the smell of those air fresheners.

On the 6th of May Gilroy gave a 11 hour interview to the police. He had  concealer make up on  his face and had  fresh cuts on his hands- little crescent  shaped marks – like someone had dug their fingernails in.  A Pathologist said they were typical of  the injuries made by a victim of strangulation trying to remove their assailants hands. But he had to agree, they could, possibly have come from gardening as Gilroy insisted.

Suzanne suspected Gilroy was hacking into her computer and reading her emails. It was usual for  Gilroy to text Suzanne 50 times a day,  on the 3rd of May, they dropped to less than 10 a day.

                                                 he took a very long way round on quiet roads
                                                                Daily Record

The prosecution proved that, no matter which way they drove the journey from Edinburgh to Inverness, 124 miles and 2 hours of time were  unaccounted for.
 And the prosecution made a point of saying that  anybody in their right mind would use the Rest  and be Thankful, but he didn’t. He drove the long way round. Strange behaviour
Guilty by a majority verdict David Gilroy continues to maintain his innocence.
Suzanne’s remains have never been found.

Suzanne's Dad with his favourite photograph
The Sun

Caro Ramsay  17th Oct 2014


  1. What was David Gilroy's position at the company?

  2. Caro, WHAT a creepy story! Years ago, MWA/NY had an FBI statistician as a speaker. He said that 90+% of the time that a woman between 16 and 54 is killed, she is killed by her husband or boyfriend. And her most vulnerable times are when she is breaking up with him, is pregnant, or has just given birth.
    That's why it takes creativity to write murder mysteries that are not obvious. This one looks obvious to me.

  3. It's refreshing, at least, to see a case where the jury actually used reasonable logic and didn't listen too tightly to the defense (at least, if Scottish courts are ANYTHING like American). Here in the states, the "innocent beyond a SHADOW of a doubt" has been carried way too far, as the defense can almost ALWAYS cast a SHADOW of a doubt, however strained.

    That said, I do believe the death penalty should be abolished in all 50 states, as mistakes will always be made, and death is a mistake "the state" should NEVER make. Sounds like the title of a novel: "Death Was A Mistake." Or how about "Death Can't Be Taken Back."

  4. It would surely be good to find the body for the sake of closure. Glad Gilroy was found guilty.
    Everett, how about "Death is a one way street"?

    1. And the sequel, "You Can't Get Here From There."

  5. Hi all,

    I'm having trouble posting comments! But to answer all- Gilroy wasn't Suzanne's boss in any way- he just had a job that allowed him to be out the office and 'onsite'. He did have a previous career in the military and was noted as being a good 'problem solver'.
    Her family have always been quietly dignified about it all, but her dad desperately wants her body to be found, he just wants her to come home.

  6. Why have cadaver dogs been ignored in the McCann case?